After sending a message to the Pirates that basically said "Not in our house", the Cardinals ended a 17-game stretch against the best teams in the NL (Braves, Reds and Pirates) with a 10-7 record and a 1.5 game lead in the division.
Things should get easier from here, as the Cardinals face 5 teams with a combined winning percentage of just .457 in their final 19 games. Here is a comparison of the Cards remaining schedule against the other NL Central contenders:
Milwaukee Brewers (62-80): Home Sept. 10-12 (3 games), Away Sept. 20-22 (3 games)
Seattle Mariners (65-78): Home Sept. 13-15 (3 games)
Colorado Rockies (66-78): Away Sept. 16-19 (4 games)
Washington Nationals (73-69): Home Sept. 23-25 (3 games)
Chicago Cubs (60-82): Home Sept. 27-29 (3 games)
Overall record 326-387 (.457), 12 Home games, 7 Away
Texas Rangers (81-61): Away Sept. 9-11 (3 games)
Chicago Cubs (60-82): Home Sept. 12-15 (4 games), Away Sept. 23-25 (3 games)
San Diego Padres (65-77): Home Sept. 16-19 (4 games)
Cincinnati Reds (82-62): Home Sept. 20-22 (3 games), Away Sept. 27-20 (3 games)
Overall record 288-282 (.505), 11 Home, 9 Away
Chicago Cubs (60-82): Home Sept. 9-11 (3 games)
Milwaukee Brewers (62-80): Away Sept. 13-15 (3 games)
Houston Astros (47-96): Away Sept. 16-18 (3 games)
Pittsburgh Pirates (81-61): Away Sept. 20-22 (3 games), Home Sept. 27-29 (3 games)
NY Mets (64-77): Home Sept. 23-25 (3 games)
Overall record 314-396 (.442), 9 Home, 9 Away
What does it all mean? Well, hopefully, while the Pirates and Reds are beating up against each other, the Cardinals will take advantage of their "soft" schedule to run away with the division. The Cards are 24-11 so far this year against the teams remaining on their schedule (they have yet to play the Mariners). The Cubs have given the Cardinals the most difficulty, with the Cards just 9-7 against the Central's cellar dwellers, while the Cards have beat up on the Brewers (10-3 so far) and swept the Nats in an earlier 3-game series.
The Cardinals also have the advantage of having the most home games and fewest road games remaining. The Cardinals (44-25), Pirates (45-25) and Reds (47-24) have all excelled at home, while the Cards are the only one of the 3 with a record above .500 on the road (Cards 39-35, Pirates 36-36, Reds 35-38).
With the Reds and Pirates tied for second in the division, their 6 games against each other will go a long way towards determining the final standings. If one of those two gets hot and sweeps those 6 games, they could push the Cards for the division crown. However, if they split those games, which is more likely, it could allow the Cardinals to break away from the pack.
We all know that the games are not played on paper. The Cardinals may have a beneficial schedule down the stretch, but they have to take advantage of it. In any case, it should be an interesting 3 weeks of baseball.